British vs American English: vocabulary, tense and preference

Have you ever heard this old saying that Britain and America are ‘two nations divided by a common language’? They are, really.

The main challenge for non-native speakers is the struggle to ‘balance’ both, while examiners advise students to stick to either in exams. Quite complicated you’d say.

Let’s look at the basic differences in British and American English and decide if they are so different.

The differences in vocabulary of British and American English are apparently the most noticeable. Both have a lot of words that are different in spelling but same in meaning, which is usually understood in the context of expression.

This implies that an American may not understand a statement from a Briton until the context of the conversation is established.
Examples of differences in vocabulary:         

British American
bonnet (car) hood
flat apartment
football soccer
boot (car) trunk
petrol gas/gasoline
trousers pants
chemist/chemist’s drugstore
lift elevator
nappy diaper
cinema movie theater/the movies
jumper sweater
maize corn
mobile phone cell phone
roundabout(road) traffic circle
solicitor lawyer
zip zipper
estate/estate car station wagon
driving licence driver’s license
ground floor first floor


Furthermore, some words are more common in British English than American English expressions. For example, shall is common in British English than in American, where will is preferred.


Collective noun

Also, if a singular noun represents a large number or group of people (collective noun), Americans use a singular verb, while both singular and plural are allowed in British English.


  1. The team is ready for the match. (American)
  2. The team is/are ready for the match. (British)
  3. Twenty-five percent of the workforce is unhappy with the management’s decision. (American)
  4. Twenty-five percent of the workforce is/are unhappy with the management’s decision. (British)

Note: percent (American and British)
per cent (British)



In tenses, dreamed is the past tense and past participle form of dream in American English, while both dreamed and dreamt are used in British English. Other examples are: learned/learnt, burned/burnt, leaned/leant, kneeled/knelt, spoiled/spoilt, spelled/spelt.

Also read: British vs American English: striking spelling differences and exceptions


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